Survey Report: MP's perspective on upcoming parliamentary and district council elections
The elections in Afghanistan, over the past one and half decades, has been affected by various political and security challenges and other constraints arising from institutional weaknesses and capacity deficits. Concerning the parliamentary elections, use of the Single Non-Transferable Vote (SNTV) system has further compounded the electoral challenges. The monitoring conducted by FEFA and other observer organizations has revealed that the reforms within Electoral Management Bodies (EMBs) have progressed significantly slowly, and, given the sheer scale of the institutional deficiencies, are yet to address a wide array of institutional and operational challenges. On the other hand, the slow pace of preparations for the upcoming parliamentary and district council elections and the widening ambit of violence, insurgency and insecurity in many provinces have further exacerbated the concerns among such electoral stakeholders as the civil society organizations, political parties and the Afghan citizens in general. On this basis, it is critical on the part of the Electoral Management Bodies, the national unity government and other stakeholders to closely examine the shortcomings and their root causes in order to successfully meet the challenges of holding free, fair and transparent elections. Towards this end, the Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan organization (FEFA) conducted a survey with Members of Parliament (MPs) within the lower house of parliament (Wolesi Jirga) to explore their perceptions, demands, concerns and preferences with regard to the parliamentary and district council elections planned for 2018. In addition, and in a series of focus group discussions, perspectives and concerns of a wide cross-section of civil society organizations and political parties were also explored. This report discusses the findings of the survey and the focus group discussions.
FEFA (Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan)
Lower House MP's (Wolesi Jirga Members)
The Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan organization (FEFA) conducted a survey with Members of Parliament (MPs) within the lower house of parliament (Wolesi Jirga) to explore their perceptions, demands, concerns and preferences with regard to the parliamentary and district council elections planned for 2018.
1. The Independent Election Commission (IEC), in consultation with international partners (UN Electoral Support Project – UNESP - and other organizations providing technical assistance), and Afghan civil society organizations and other stakeholders should draw up and put in place a roadmap including specific action plans in order to speed up the electoral preparations. This will be critical to the task of restoring the confidence of the Afghan parliament, civil society and watchdog organizations, political parties and the citizens in general in the ability and willingness of the IEC and the national unity government to hold free, fair and credible elections. 2. The IEC should immediately take credible steps to address the array of challenges—institutional, managerial and operational—that have undermined the commission’s performance and resulted in the sharp decline in the confidence of stakeholders in its capabilities and integrity. Absence of a consensus-driven approach to decision-making, fragmentation and division of opinions, internal bickering and other more fundamental institutional deficiencies need to be tackled by a committed management within the IEC. This would involve filling the empty slots of high-ranking managers in IEC’s secretariat whose recruitment is pending due to differences of opinion. 3. The IEC, in consultation with relevant executive agencies of the government, should designate and announce a new date for the parliamentary and district council elections—within a timeline that would be realistic and within the confines of what the resources and circumstances allow. Expediting the electoral preparations at the current juncture would go a long way in reassuring the Afghan parliament, the civil society and Afghan citizens regarding the commitment of the national unity government to holding timely, free and fair elections. 4. The national Unity Government should uphold the independence of the IEC and refrain from meddling in internal affairs of the commission. Undue influence-peddling by subnational government officials and local strongmen and power brokers in provincial offices of IEC have negatively affected the operations of the commission and significantly slowed the pace of electoral preparations. This has clearly concerned the MPs and civil society stakeholders. 5. The IEC should push for finalization of the plan to redraw the electoral constituencies in the 12 largest provinces. Currently a proposal to this effect has been submitted to the government by the IEC but any decision is yet to be adopted on that. Progress on other crucial issues such as creation of voter registries and assessment of voting centers in these 12 provinces is directly tied to delineation of constituencies. Given the destabilizing impact that redistricting of constituencies in the 12 provinces can entail, and the fast approaching date of the elections, FEFA proposes that for the upcoming elections constituencies remain the same. Absence of progress over this figures prominently among the concerns voiced by MPs, CSOs and political parties. 6. Rather than a dismissive attitude, the IEC should adopt a constructive approach toward the civil society organizations and other watchdog organizations tasked with electoral advocacy and observation. Timely dissemination of information about major decisions concerning elections and making the current decision-making processes within the Electoral Management Bodies (EMBs) less opaque and more transparent are the key considerations that the EMBs should take into account. This can be achieved by, among others, adopting a truly participatory process that effectively allows for incorporation of concerns and demands of CSOs and other advocacy and observer organizations. Rather than hiding failures, clarifying and informing the public about the true pace of progress in electoral preparations is another key area that the IEC should pay attention to. 7. The IEC should draw and take into account valuable lessons to be learned from previous rounds of presidential and parliamentary elections in consultation with and supported by other stakeholders. Current technical assistance projects run by the international community such as the UN Electoral Support Project (UNESP) that is designed to help the EMBs with institutional and operational transformation are in a unique position to assist the IEC in internalizing the lessons. 8. Modernizing the electoral processes by introducing new technologies (such as the electronic voting machines) needs to be implemented in a cautious and phased manner. Any approach that rushes to adopt them and treats these technologies as a so-called panacea that compensates for institutional and operational deficiencies will only exacerbate the existing problems. Completing the biometric database of citizen information concurrent to issuance of E-Tazkiras is a very good first step toward the goal of modernizing the electoral systems in Afghanistan. 9. Successful elections in difficult environments such as Afghanistan requires acute attention to and management of not only the technical but also the political aspects of the electoral processes. The MPs, CSOs and political party representatives made it clear that they doubt the ability of Electoral Management Bodies to effectively manage the political aspect of the forthcoming elections especially should large-scale disputes occur. Supported by the international community the IEC and the ECC should take credible steps in enhancing their capacity for successful management of political relationships and demonstrating this to all stakeholders. 10. The Afghan government and the EMBs should enable greater involvement of the international community in the current electoral process. This would include ramping up the international community’s efforts as part of the UN Electoral Support Project (UNESP) as well as a more pronounced commitment to provide funding for the operations of the EMBS in the run-up to the elections within the operational parameters of UNESP. 11. As insecurity and the significant risks associated with that have been foremost among the concerns voiced by parliamentarians, the IEC in coordination with the security agencies and the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission (RSM) should take credible steps to allay these fears and concerns. As these concerns are also shared by a majority of Afghan citizens, this would go a long way in bringing about the enabling environment necessary for holding free, fair and credible elections. Ensuring the security of national and international election observers should be another critical goal as past experience has showed that prevalence of electoral fraud has an inverse but strong relationship with presence of observers. Given the adverse security environment, FEFA proposes that the upcoming parliamentary and district council elections be held in a phased manner so that the available resources may be optimally deployed to ensure the safety and security of voters, observers and electoral workers.
Executive Summary: • Among the MPs and civil society organizations and political parties, concerns over the slow pace of progress with preparations by the IEC for the upcoming parliamentary and district council elections is on the rise. The MPs and members of civil society organizations and political parties largely attribute the significantly slow pace of progress to an array of institutional and operational shortcomings within the IEC as well as its dysfunctional relations with other stakeholders. • MPs, civil society organizations and political parties believe that poor technical, operational and managerial capacity, internal bickering, and lack of a consensus-driven approach within the IEC have all caused the government to infringe upon the independence of the commission, and are the chief factors underlying its poor performance and the slow pace of progress. • MPs, civil society organizations and political parties largely doubt the IEC and the national unity government’s resolve to hold the parliamentary and district council elections on the designated date of July 7, 2018. Nine out of every ten MPs (90%) believe that the parliamentary and district council elections will not be held on July 7, 2018 and will be postponed. • Insecurity in provinces and districts which can potentially impact the elections (54%), the likelihood of IEC favoring some candidates over others (44%), poor technical and operational capacity partly as a result of stalled progress over implementation of electoral reforms (39%), and external interference in IEC’s affairs by outside parties (the government and other subnational government officials and local power brokers – 39%), and lack of progress over redistricting of constituencies in 12 provinces (12%) are the five key concerns among the MPs. • More than six out of every ten MPs (65%) are dissatisfied with the performance of the IEC and the progress of preparations for the upcoming elections. Only 18% express satisfaction. What MPs perceive as poor technical and managerial capacity within the IEC is the most frequent reason cited by MPs for their dissatisfaction with IEC’s performance. • Civil society organizations and political parties cite (a) the IEC coming across as unable or unwilling to heed the lessons from previous elections, (b) excessive and unrealistic reliance on use of modern and electronic electoral technology, and (c) poor cooperation with other stakeholders such as civil society and watchdog organizations on important electoral issues as the main reasons for their extensive dissatisfaction with IEC’s performance. • More than nine out of every ten MPs (91%) perceive the government’s approach towards the IEC as either meddling and unjust interference or largely against the laws. Only 5% of MPs express satisfaction with the government’s behavior toward the IEC. • While due to a variety of reasons, the IEC, the government and the international stakeholders have now abandoned plans to leverage technology platforms in the upcoming elections, MPs are overwhelmingly in favor of modernizing the electoral processes. More than nine out of every ten MPs (93%) are in favor of greater use of modern technology in the electoral cycle. On the other hand, representatives of civil society organizations and political parties are more cautious. They are largely against the use of modern technology (electronic voting machines) on the elections day due to what they perceive as technical and logistical challenges which such platforms entail. • An overwhelming majority of MPs (95%) are against the use of old voter cards for identification in the upcoming elections. Many MPs and civil society representatives are concerned that the stalled progress over creation of voter registries using paper Tazkiras might tempt the government to float the idea of using the old voter cards in the upcoming elections. • Starting creation of voter registries (based on paper Tazkiras and the civil register records at the independent Population Registration Authority), restoring the true independence of the IEC by preventing external meddling and influence-peddling, persuading the international community to step up provision of financial and technical assistance to the Electoral Management Bodies (EMBs), and early finalization of the proposed redistricting of constituencies in 12 provinces are the four key demands of the MPs. • Poor approach and attitude of the IEC towards election observer organizations and the civil society in general are among the key concerns of civil society organizations and political parties. The watchdog organizations complain that the IEC does not consult with them over important electoral issues, major electoral decisions are usually taken in their absence, and that the consultation sessions with CSOs by the IEC have largely been symbolic. • More than six out of ten MPs (63%) are against the proposed plan to redistrict constituencies in the 12 largest provinces at least for the upcoming elections. Only 18% of MPs support the proposal. On the other hand, the majority of civil society organizations and representatives favor redistricting of constituencies in a way that would enable better representation. The IEC’s proposal at the request of the government to break up the 12 single-province constituencies has the potential to span new challenges and destabilize the electoral system in the absence of reliable population statistics, controversial or poor demarcation of district boundaries in many of the 12 provinces, and the possibility of large vote swings among candidates. • MPs and representatives from CSOs and political parties are overwhelmingly in favor of greater involvement of the international community (UN agencies, donor organizations and foreign diplomatic missions) in the electoral process in the form of (a) enhanced financial and technical assistance to the government and the Electoral Management Bodies, (b) greater assistance to the IEC to address its institutional deficiencies and to create sustainable electoral capacity, (c) more rigorous oversight of the electoral preparations, and (d) exerting greater pressure on the national unity government to commit to facilitating free, fair and transparent elections.
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